Real Madrid host Borussia Dortmund on Wednesday evening with the home team already qualified for the knockout stages of the Champions League, while the visitors scrap with APOEL for passage to the Europa League through a third-place finish.
In the context of Group H, the match means little for Real Madrid. But the stuttering form of both sides imbues the contest with added significance. Both are fumbling for a foothold in seasons that threaten to slip away. In the Spanish capital, that has led to certain commentators pointing fingers at previously untouchable suspects.
Isco consolidated his position as an undisputed starter for Madrid at the tail end of the 2016-17 season. Since then, he had remained immune from the criticism aimed at various teammates.
Jorge Valdano -- a former Real Madrid manager and a World Cup winner in 1986 -- has scolded Isco and Cristiano Ronaldo for excessive individualism. Valdano speaks with a suave Argentine accent. But his words often carry a serrated edge.
"There are many players who want to win the game by themselves. Isco is one of them. He covers every blade of grass and this makes him a really important player, but due to his efforts he tires in the final 20 to 25 minutes," Valdano told El Transistor. "Cristiano Ronaldo is another. He looks for goals from all types of situations."
Ronaldo continues to seek refuge in the Champions League. The 32-year-old drew a blank in front of goal against Athletic Bilbao at the weekend, meaning his domestic tally for the season remains stalled on two goals in 10 matches. He lacks incisiveness. He lacks that trademark clarity in front of goal, as if he were a puppet being pulled in different directions in the six-yard box.
In stark contrast to Ronaldo's impotence in La Liga, his form in the Champions League is insatiable to the extent that he has another goal-scoring record within his sights.
Alessandro Del Piero came close in 1995. So did Sergei Rebrov in 1997. But neither player managed to score in all six group stage matches of the Champions League. If Ronaldo scores at the Bernabeu on Wednesday evening, he will become the first player to do so. That is unless Neymar -- who has also found the net in each of PSG's Group Stage matches -- scores against Bayern Munich the night before.
Ronaldo will take little heed of Valdano's criticism. Penalty box Machiavellianism is intrinsic to his game. It cannot be separated from his success. And looking ahead to the remainder of the season, that attitude will be essential to replicating his European form on the domestic stage. With a record up for grabs in an inconsequential match against Dortmund, and perhaps more pertinently, the Ballon d'Or ceremony on Thursday, Ronaldo will have his blinkers fixed on goals even more firmly than usual.
Zinedine Zidane is close to having a complete squad of fit players to choose from. Marco Asensio has returned to full training after recovering from an injury he sustained in Real Madrid's last Champions League outing -- a 6-0 mauling of APOEL. Gareth Bale, meanwhile, continues to train on the fringes. With a La Liga match against Sevilla -- who are level on points with Madrid -- looming at the weekend, it is unlikely Zidane will risk causing him longer-term damage. Dani Carvajal is suspended and will play no part.
Los Blancos are strolling heavy-legged through the first half of the season. They are maintaining a steady rate, but are always behind the pacesetters.
Dortmund's trajectory under Peter Bosz -- who arrived as coach in the summer after guiding Ajax to the final of the Europa League -- has been different. A blistering start has subsided in to a remarkable slump.
The 2012-13 Champions League finalists are on a run of seven Bundesliga matches without a victory. Only Cologne -- rooted to the bottom of the table and without a win all season -- have endured a longer winless streak (14 matches). To illustrate the rapid descent of Bosz's side alternatively, they have picked up the same amount of red cards (three) as points since their last league victory, which against Augsburg at the end of September.
Tactical hazard lights were flashing a few days before that last win. When Real Madrid eased past Dortmund 3-1 at the Westfalenstadion, Bosz opted to deploy a high defensive line. That approach transpired to be extremely naive against a Madrid attack with Bale momentarily firing on all cylinders.
The 54-year-old coach's problems are exacerbated by a lengthy list of absentees. Maximilian Phillip and Gonzalo Castro picked up injuries in a draw against Bayer Leverkusen at the weekend. They join Mario Gotze and Marco Reus in a long queue at the treatment room door.
The outcome at the Bernabeu may not significantly affect the composition of Group H. That is already more-or-less decided. But in terms of building momentum, the match is important for both sides. A negative Real Madrid performance will lead to further pressure from pundits like Valdano. The level of scrutiny will rise and more players will join Isco in the firing line.